I’m just going to get this out there straight away… I love it. There’s also no doubt in my mind that if you’re a sucker for filth, grime, and still bear the softest of spots for the Seattle grunge movement of the nineties, you will too. This is as Alice in Chains as it gets; warmongering riffs, alluringly haunting vocal harmonies and a sinister tone that maintains the band’s identity with as much aplomb as when the late great Layne Staley was urging forward his tensed-throat vocals in the early nineties…
With The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, the band have reinforced the statement they made with 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue. The record was the band’s first in 14 years, and the first without Staley, and surprised many people by overcoming a plethora of obstacles and maintaining the bands identity – something many feared wouldn’t be possible when considered the demise of their nineties contemporaries. The sheer length of time it had been since AIC had released a record only contributed to increase skepticism, but a new enigma at the forefront of the band, William DuVall, slotted seamlessly into the setup and showcased a vocal partnership with Jerry Cantrell that no one felt possible. The reborn Alice in Chains is now 4 years more conducive, and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here fits perfectly in a now quintet of crucial Alice in Chains records.
Regarding the music itself, the sludge is thrown at you in boatloads from the outset. Hollow is an unmistakable Alice in Chains track; a disciplined, combative riff laced with dark vocal wars fought valiantly by DuVall and Cantrell. Most fans of the band will have been hearing Hollow for some time now; along with Stone, and I must admit, when I first heard it myself, I was underwhelmed. Listening to it now, I have no idea how… I can only assume the fear of being disappointed by a band I love, who didn’t really need to release a new album, overwhelmed the fact that I was listening to a crushing tune, as opposed to the one I was losing interest in after a couple of minutes. Pretty Done arrives, and picks up the pace and whispers remnants of Facelift, as if to remind you of who you were listening to once again before the poisonous, downright filthy bassline of Stone is backed-up by a more concentrated dose in the form of an unsanitary riff that I simply cannot stop listening to. Stone is a stellar track that encapsulates everything that sets the band apart from their nineties contemporaries. The track advances at a pace somewhere in between a crawl and a stride, showing no relent in the discharge of dirt. Yet, as only Alice in Chains can, it somehow manages to sound anything but horrible. It’s sinister but it’s beautiful, and a trademark showcase of the dynamism of the Alice in Chains hypothesis that still bears the same blueprint.
I can’t help but think that the way that I’m portraying this thus far, although I’m unerringly singing its praises, is merely making it sound like it’s plagiarising the band’s old work, and somewhat lacking evolution and ambition. But the band doesn’t need to evolve their sound. They’ve defined genres in the past and fused several together, and the fact that the band have replicated this sound by overcoming tragic obstacles and the test of time, and kept the music sounding just as infectious today, is a fulfilment of incredible ambition in itself. Voices arrives and confirms this further, and the acoustic-driven arrangement, a particular hallmark of Staley/Cantrell masterstrokes, is the most radio-friendly track on the record and an outright highlight.
Title track The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here however, eclipses this, and is the focal point of the record. Eerie, tangled guitars raise the curtain on a religious and politically drenched hust. Cantrell/DuVall chemistry is reactive again, with their contrasting styles complimenting each other like a Chilean Merlot compliments a fillet steak. Layne Staley will always be one of my favourite vocalists period, but DuVall is the prototypical protégé, and could not be a more suitable fit for the band. Combine this with a watertight structure and a militaristic progression within the track, and this really is an exhibition of masters at work.
The second half of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here continues to throw the Alice in Chains back catalogue into a cauldron, which bubbles into a putrid, viscous, hazardous concoction seething with authenticity and texture. Every last track is awash with dynamism, and is an unsanctioned marriage of slow burning metal and calculating, feculent grunge. Lab Monkey and Low Ceiling are two more barnstorming tracks that maintain the begrimed onslaught, with another acoustic drive present on the latter and at the core of Scalpel, before Phantom Limb announces itself as the most metal orientated track on the record with a palm-muted chug and a seven-minute pursuit of something dark and malevolent. Bookend track Choke leaves the record on a bit of a cliffhanger, and there is certainly a sense (or maybe wishful thinking on my part) that this is not the last we’ve heard from Cantrell and Co., and on the evidence of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, all the materials are there to continue making records that are at the pinnacle of their genres.
Jerry Cantrell, in an interview with Rolling Stone, outwardly stated that “there’s some real filth in there”, and he wasn’t wrong. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is up there with the best Alice in Chains albums, with each track a conquest of structure and composition. The fact that the band still today, despite past tragedy, are still producing authentic, no-holds-barred music that remains as identifiable as ever is a testament to the hunger and astuteness of the band. The chemistry is evident in interacting chapters within each given track, and the dynamism of metal and grunge in matrimony is conquered in the way of malignant beauty and inspired coordination. This is the Alice in Chains we know and love, and grunge is certainly not dead. 88% for their troubles!
*first published on No Ripcord*